A scorching sun beat down on the dry corn stalks whispering in the gentle mountainside breeze. A dusty village sprawled in the valley below. On the opposite slope, Totonac coffee pickers laboured under a clear blue canopy. Long afternoon shadows would soon give them some relief, but for the moment, they just had to withstand the heat. Few people, relaxing with their morning coffee, could ever imagine the back-breaking labour involved in its production.
With his farm chores finished for the day, Teo watched in silence as his wife cradled their tiny daughter on her knees. The afternoon heat made it hard to get her settled. She was beautiful and healthy, and at two months, her deep brown eyes already followed every motion. Teo just knew that those bright eyes were looking at him. A mass of gleaming black hair crowned her round face. Her olive complexion already showed signs of inheriting her mother's striking beauty.
Later that day, Teo's thoughts were with his wife and daughter as he navigated the mountain trail. This artery had been worn deep into the mountain slopes by thousands of barefooted Totonacs burdened beneath heavy loads. Teo no longer wore the traditional Totonac white muslin of his ancestors. He wore a sports shirt and red-tab Levis. Although born in a primitive mountain village, his Mexico-city education had changed his philosophy as well as the clothes he wore. Somehow, he still felt drawn back to these green slopes where he had played as a boy. He had returned almost a year ago now, seeking temporary work to support himself and his new Mexican bride. He tended the animals on the farm run by the Totonac Bible Centre and became friends with many medical volunteers who volunteered there.
The trail ahead broadened as he headed higher. A pair of brilliantly coloured macaws swooped overhead, but their loud shrieks went unnoticed. An armadillo rattled its way across his path into the shade of a tall oak tree.
Then there came a sound that was out of tune with the natural symphony of the mountains. It was the cold, sharp click of steel against steel. Teo turned. Now he realized, with a chill, the source of the sound. Two men stood facing him, one with a gun pointed directly at him. Teo felt the sudden sting low in his stomach. There was a smell of smoke, and he collapsed onto his side. His ears hurt, and his heart raced. He felt the panic of losing consciousness and the terror and increasing pain. He longed for his wife's tender embrace. Then another shot echoed at close range. He lay motionless. One man rolled Teo's body over with his foot and pocketed his wallet. The men stood watching for signs of life. When they found none, they raced back along the path without looking back.
At the clinic below, two doctors heard the shots echo in the valley. They looked at each other, then moved in unison without speaking, stumbling breathlessly up the steep trail until they paused for a breath. In the high altitude, their lungs strained for oxygen. Standing for a moment on the winding path, they looked over the magnificent valley that fell sharply to the riverbed below. The hypnotic rhythm of a mountain waterfall placed a barrier between them and reality.
They continued their climb more slowly. Then, as the trail widened, the first doctor saw something blocking their way. He tried to suppress what he was thinking. But, seconds later, when he reached Teo's lifeless body, his worst fears were confirmed. Impulsively but with professional skill, he bent over the dead man, his fingers desperately searching for a pulse.
He whispered his friend's name in desperation. There was no sound—only blood oozing slowly from a gaping wound in his head.
Together the two doctors carried Teo's trim, young body down the mountain trail, past the waterfall and the peaceful view of the valley floor. Although there was no hurry now, their sorrow blinded their eyes, and they needed to be alone with their grief and prayers.
The dark stains on the green slope remained as the only evidence of the senseless tragedy. Then, without warning, a dense mist closed the curtain on the mountain, and soon the path forgot its human memory, scrubbed away by torrential rains.
No one ever discovered why Teo was a target that day. When his wife learned of his death, she packed her meagre belongings and returned to her parents' village with her beautiful baby and her haunting memories.